Sprint's planned closure of its Nextel iDEN network at the end of June will allow it to start getting its 4G LTE deployment onto spectrum that is better suited to wider-range and indoor coverage.
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said on the operator's first-quarter earnings call that the Nextel network is "on schedule" to be switched off at the end of the current quarter. This opens the way for Sprint to start re-using that 800MHz spectrum for LTE. It currently deploys LTE on 1900MHz, but the lower-band 800MHz spectrum has better propagation for greater range and penetratration through building walls.
"We expect to deploy LTE on 800MHz in the fourth quarter," said Steve Elfman, president of network operations and wholesale at Sprint on the call. This is part of the company's wider "Network Vision" 3G and 4G upgrade.
Elfman says Sprint presently has "600 cities under construction" with 170 ready in the coming months with the updates.
It currently has 13,500 sites live with the Network Vision updates, ahead of the 12,000 predicted. It spent $1.4 billion on the updates in the quarter.
It is not clear if the company could increase its capex budget if it closed merger deals with SoftBank Mobile or DISH Networks LLC. Analysts asked about the transactions during the earnings call but Sprint executives aren't commenting, beyond saying that they expect the SoftBank and Clearwire deals to close on July 1 if all goes to plan.
Nonetheless, Sprint is clearing the way for LTE integration with WiMax partner Clearwire. Hesse said he expects Clearwire's fast 4G service to start arriving late in the third quarter with "TD-LTE, multi-band devices."
With so many different chunks of frequency to support, Sprint will need these devices to switch between 2.5GHz, 800MHz and 1900MHz to get around the network.
This is all in the future though, as Sprint enters into what Hesse described as a spend- and build-heavy "phase two" of the operator's turnaround.
For the first quarter, Sprint shrank its net loss to $643 million from a loss of $863 million the year before. It lost $0.21 per share against a loss of $0.29 a year ago. Analysts had expected a loss of $0.33 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile